Uncoventional Ad Units That Work
Price rules but custom units can open wallets.
Price is the single largest factor in winning new advertising business, according to Dennis Connaughton, general manager at sales rep firm James G. Elliott. “In terms of closing print sales today, price remains number one,” he says. “I’m sure I’d get a lot of argument about that from media agency people, but it isn’t rare today to get RFPs that request lower rates than the advertiser had last year.”
Most of the print creative that Connaughton sees today are standard size units, pages, fractionals and (“too rarely,” he adds) spreads. “In times of short budgets, clients invariably stick to the basics—those that are lowest cost, fit all books and occasions and those that can be most easily negotiated,” he says. “Media planners/buyers today have never had any training in print production so their ability to negotiate anything other than rate card units is limited.”
Beyond price, however, some publishers are getting into packaging (multi-platform programs) and other custom ideas, sometimes with spectacular results.
The Atlantic’s November issue boasted the most ad pages of any issue in the magazine’s 153-year-history (2010 also shaped up to be the best year in the magazine’s history for print revenue). The magazine finished the year up 27 percent in print ad revenue—out of 11 issues, eight were up double digits over 2009.
Much of that success is attributed to custom packages, according to publisher Jay Lauf. “There is a long-term trend toward customization from advertisers,” he says. “They’re looking for unique ways to speak to an audience and the phrase ‘never been done before’ is constantly on RFPs and uttered in meetings.”
The editorial of The Atlantic’s November issue revolved around a series of profiles called “Brave Thinkers.” Advertisers could buy in with packages that went beyond the typical page, such as Dow buying multiple cover units. “Our editors talked to me about how it would be cool to do a photo essay on these brave thinkers,” says Lauf. “The topic lent itself to portraiture. We didn’t shop it widely. We approached Dow with the concept of what the editors wanted and how they could marry their messaging to the concept.”
While back-end production didn’t vary much, selling the custom units required some advance notice. “Unlike the trend of the last couple of years with advertisers buying monthly, this deal was put together months ahead,” says Lauf. “Advertisers had to commit in advance and there were logistics to work out with the printer. We weren’t going to green light a full-on cover shoot if there wasn’t an advertiser supporting it.”
Ad Revenue From Custom Units Up “300 to 400 Percent”
Lauf says The Atlantic is trying to bring custom capabilities into almost every sales call. “Customizing doesn’t always mean a die cut gatefold unit, it could be something as simple as old fashioned advertorial, or it could manifest itself online,” he adds. “It’s something we discuss on every sales call because it’s a differentiator for us, but not every advertiser can capitalize on it. The actual execution of custom work like this is up 400 percent this year over last year and it’s not like we weren’t doing any last year. The amount of revenue that custom packages account for is up between 300 percent and 400 percent.”
Pricing can range dramatically for custom packages and Lauf says publishers need to be clear with advertisers. “Some of these units require hard cost production—paper stock, cost of printing, creative,” he adds. “In some instances, there will be a premium for doing a breakthrough unit—it will have bigger impact than a typical spread will have. I think it comes down to being clear to advertisers what they’re paying for, what dollars are for.”
Lauf says that he often sees programs that are anchored in digital transfer to print. Right before the table-of-contents in The Atlantic’s “Brave Thinkers” issue, there is a spread from Cathay Pacific with a left-hand promotional page that talks about China with Atlantic national correspondent James Fallows. “That is a print execution of what is a digital idea,” says Lauf. “James has a DVD series on doing business in China and Cathay Pacific sponsored cutting that into video vignettes on a Web site, which in turn manifested itself in print.”
Creating Multi-Million Dollar Programs
Hearst Magazines has done several unconventional ad units this year—a program for auction site eBay with a half-page vertical ad flap that ran in all 14 Hearst titles (and was customized for each), a campaign for Procter & Gamble Beauty Back-to-School (a multiproduct booklet with a coupon page inside the back cover), Marie Claire’s series of peel-able beauty advertising “cling” stick-ups, and Kimberly Clark Cottonelle inserts (that were created to look like a roll of toilet tissue rolling out of the magazine) in multiple magazines.
“With all of these, we customized each ad idea for the client, who is looking for ideas for their specific products,” says Jeff Hamill, senior vice president of Hearst Magazines. “We worked with both the clients and their ad agencies, but they were all customized concepts designed to promote engagement with the ads and their products.”
Hamill says that about 90 percent of the time, Hearst comes up with specific ideas for specific clients rather than coming up with ideas first and then taking them to market trying to find a buyer.
“We believe the best engagement comes with the ultimate customization,” he adds. “The idea has to be right—and no two client ideas are exactly the same.”
For the Cottonelle campaign, Hearst had to work with the printer to innovate on the production side because the publisher wasn’t sure the idea—which featured an ad that looked like a roll of toilet tissue unspooling in the ad—would work.
“Cottonelle was multi-million-dollar campaign and, in terms of comparing it to ad pages, it was more expensive than running single-page advertising,” says Hamill. “The impact and engagement in units like this test very high. We’ve gotten great feedback. One measurement of ad engagement is Vista and we received high scores with the Cottonelle ad specifically. Kimberly Clark was very pleased and nice buzz resulted.”